Biggest cycling event in the history of Colombia attracts thousands of cycling fans and the best generation of escarabajos to compete against each other in their own backyard.
The first edition of Colombia Oro y Paz was an overwhelming success. Four of the top World Tour teams were present in Palmira for the presentation and start of the race, and all had their successes in this six-stage event. Rigoberto Urán from team EF Education First-Drapac was thrilled: “With so many cycling fans in Colombia this is very exciting.” He said, “I haven’t raced a multiple stage race in Colombia since I moved to Europe in 2005 to become a professional.” The cyclist from Urrao won the fifth stage in Salento and finished third in the general classification. Education First was one of the four World Tour teams present in the first edition of the Colombia Oro y Paz 2.1.
Team Sky youngster Egan Bernal, who won the general classification in Manizales in front of thousands of enthusiastic fans, said to cyclingnews.com: “It’s an important victory for many reasons. It’s one of my first races with the team, it’s the first race I’ve won with the team, and then because it’s in Colombia. It’s the first 2.1 race in Colombia and I’ve won it, so it’s something special.” In the final stage, his older teammate Sergio Luís Henao stayed with Nairo and Rigo, letting Bernal go ahead and so helping him claim the victory. Henao’s trip to Colombia was definitely worth it as he won the national road championships elite race in style, two days before the Colombia Oro y Paz started.
Fernando Gaviria was the big man in the first half of the event. The multifaceted sprinter from Team Quickstep dominated the mass sprint in the first three flat stages. Not only did he wear the pink leader jersey for half the race, he also helped his French teammate Julian Alaphilippe to the stage four victory – showing that there were chances for the foreign cyclists as well.
Having so many of the country’s cycling legends on the same track was one thing, having them accompanied by so many cheering fans took it to another dimension. Gaviria expressed his gratitude to the fans on the team website: “The public was fantastic, I can’t find the words to tell you how much it means to see them cheering for me and chanting my name. The Colombians love cycling and are very passionate about it, and I’m extremely happy that the entire world got to see that. I can’t wait to return here next year, especially as the race will take place in my home region of Antioquia.”
Team Movistar also came with a full Colombian force. Nairo Quintana commanded the team, assisted by his younger brother Dayer Quintana and Winner Anacona. The Quintanas survived a scare after they both went to the ground at the end of the first stage, but with just a few scratches, and no time loss, Nairo continued and found himself in the pink leader jersey after stage five. Dayer won the final stage only to watch his brother lose the title to Bernal.
Jarlinson Pantano and Darwin Atapuma couldn’t convince their respective teams, Trek-Segafredo and UAE Team Emirates, to come for this race, so instead they formed a Team Colombia so that the Cali-born Pantano could compete in the region he grew up in. The name missing from the star-studded start list was Esteban Chaves. The bogotano expressed that he’d loved to compete, but his team had a different preparation in mind for him towards the Giro d’Italia.
There were some criticisms of this first edition. One fan complained that there weren’t enough climbing kilometres to showcase the full potential of the Colombian cyclists. After the first stage, when Nairo’s crash had pushed him to finish at the tail of the peloton, for some reason it took almost two hours before the official results came through – leaving supporters and commentators on tenterhooks to know whether Nairo had already suffered a massive blow to his title chances. Stages 1 and 2 both used exactly the same finish line, which didn’t show much creativity, but overall the comments were positive and only inspired hope for an even bigger and better second edition in 2019, hopefully one that also attracts some international stars.
The Colombia Oro y Paz 2.1 is here to stay, providing that the focus stays on organising a great cycling event for the biggest cyclists rather than allowing political games and corruption to get into the saddle.